The downtown soup kitchen has the ultimate urban garden. Dozens of boxes and planters are tucked into every corner of its rooftop and flourishing with local greens.

HA Soup Kitchen Garden

“We have several different kinds of kale, Swiss chard and lots of parsley,” Martha Jokela listed off.

Jokela is a master gardener and a regular volunteer at the soup kitchen. She picks two big bags of leafy greens every week from the produce patio to ensure people in need have enough healthy food to eat when they come to the soup kitchen for help.

“Eating well is so easy to do and so attainable that everyone should be doing it. If anyone needs the nutrients and TLC, it’s these folks who are forced to live on the street,” she said.

Nutritionist Diane Peck said people who are homeless are often dealing with significant health issues and face an enormous amount of stress, which weakens the body’s immune system, making them more susceptible to viruses and infections. Fresh vegetables provide important nutrients to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases and strengthen the immune system, she said.

The kitchen stays busy with volunteers preparing mountains of sandwiches and gallons of soup.

Dave Sorenson is the soup chef on Tuesdays. He’s been a fine dining chef for almost three decades and wants to share his talents with a different crowd.

“Feeding the homeless doesn’t mean they’re getting the leftovers or some one else’s hand-me-downs. This is real good food that I would be proud to serve in a restaurant,” he said.

Sorenson said he understands how important it is to have food that not only tastes good but is good for you, especially if you’re living on the streets where good nutrition is hard to come by.

“I was homeless for a while when my parents divorced when I was a teenager. I was here for a year volunteering before I realized why I had such a connection with our clients. Because I was homeless too.”

Every day volunteers make enough to feed up to 500 people. People come from all walks of life but all have one basic need — a nutritional meal to get them through the day.

“It’s the best food you can eat here, doesn’t get any better than this,” said Timothy Macasaet.

He said he’s fortunate to have a home but comes to the soup kitchen for lunch.

“I love coming here because they have good healthy meals here,” Macasaet said. “I thank God for this place.”

KTVA 11's Heather Hintze can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

Harvesting Alaska is an ongoing series exploring all the ways Alaskans live off the land. 

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